Lake Elmo Fire Chief Dustin Kalis drove on without stopping after he overtook several vehicles on a stretch of rural freeway in February and sent an oncoming motorist into the ditch, a witness said.
While a Minnesota state trooper’s report indicated improper overtaking and speeding were factors in the incident, the trooper ultimately decided no citation was warranted and closed the case. affair. Kalis, meanwhile, said he did not see any vehicle leaving the side of the road and there was nothing dangerous about the way he passed that day.
A witness who was following Kalis, however, said it was clearly a case of reckless driving.
“It was one of the dumbest things I ever saw there,” Kenneth Hendrickson said. “I was a bit surprised to learn he was a fire chief.”
Hendrickson was so alarmed by the February 6 highway near miss. 64 north of Motley that he fired his engine to chase Kalis’ Hyundai Santa Fe to register his license plate. He then turned to check on the occupants of the Subaru Outback in the ditch, Eric and Shannon Lee.
It took more than four months before Eric Lee got assurances last week from Kalis’ insurance company that it would cover more than $3,000 in damage to his car. He is still awaiting a satisfactory apology from Kalis, he said.
The incident happened between 2.30pm and 3pm on a Sunday, a time when southbound roads are often congested with people returning to the Twin Cities after a weekend in the North.
On a straight section of road with good visibility, Kalis attempted to pass several cars at once on the two-lane highway, putting him on a collision course with an oncoming car driven by Lee, who lived in Bemidji at the time.
Leader: Unconscious car in the ditch
In a June 15 interview, Kalis said he didn’t learn that a car had gone off the road until a few days later when a state trooper contacted him. The soldier’s report says it was 12 days later.
Kalis said he told the soldier he remembered the incident and recalled seeing an oncoming vehicle in the northbound lane pass on the shoulder as Kalis, heading south , finished his pass. He said he returned to his lane as the two cars passed each other.
“When I did the maneuver, I didn’t think it was a dangerous maneuver,” he said, adding that he was returning from a hockey tournament with his family in his SUV. “I wouldn’t have put my family in danger like that.”
Kalis said he couldn’t remember if he was going over the posted speed limit of 60mph when he pulled back to pass. He also disputed that he passed three cars at a time, saying he couldn’t remember if it was one or two. Lee said there were at least two cars and possibly three, but he wasn’t sure. Hendrickson, the witness, said it was three cars.
Oncoming driver honked
“There was no way he was getting away with it,” said Hendrickson, watching from behind. “I could tell when it first took off.”
Lee also saw the Santa Fe approaching and honked. “I honked at him as soon as I saw him quit because I saw he wasn’t going to make it,” said Lee, who was also braking. Kalis kept coming, Lee said, so Lee pulled off the freeway and hit a snowbank.
The accident was enough to throw one of his dogs from the back seat forward. Lee said he and his wife, who was in the passenger seat, were shaken but not injured. Sections of its Subaru bumper, fog lights and quarter panel were damaged or broken. The estimated repair cost is $3,261.62.
Lee said he couldn’t be on the shoulder when the two vehicles passed, as Kalis said, because Hwy. 64 north of Motley doesn’t have much of a shoulder. “As we passed I was trying to control my car as it entered the ditch.”
A soldier’s report
State Trooper Darcy Weinrich noted in an incident report that the road had a 1-2 foot shoulder.
No citations were issued. A State Patrol spokesperson said it was at the discretion of the soldier after speaking with Lee, Hendrickson and Kalis.
The soldier’s report shows a diagram of Kalis’ vehicle forcing Lee off the road. The report says Kalis’ vehicle “ran another vehicle off the road” and cites “improper passing” as a contributing factor. The report also states that Kalis was exceeding the speed limit. It is also a violation of state law to leave the scene of a collision that results in injury or property damage.
State Patrol declined a request to speak to the soldier’s supervisors about the decision not to issue a citation.
Lee spoke with the soldier in February. “I felt like I should appear to testify. … With that reason given to me, I said I was okay with him not writing a quote because I don’t couldn’t travel,” Lee said. “The decision to get him a citation seemed to be given to me, not something the soldier decided.”
Lee’s location wouldn’t have mattered, state police spokesman Lt. Gordon Shank said. “Soldiers do not base their investigations on the location of the parties involved. Soldiers issue citations or recommend charges based on their investigations as they evolve during their investigations.”
Dispute over insurance
Kalis said last week that he didn’t see Lee crash. “Safety is the one thing I’ve focused on for the past 18 years in the fire service,” he said. “Having my own family, which means the most to me, I would never have put them at risk,” he added. Kalis said when Weinrich contacted him, he said he would not release a quote. Kalis said he apologized to Lee when they finally spoke on the phone, but Lee disagrees.
“He was sorry for how I felt,” Lee said, saying that was no excuse for his actions. “The entire phone conversation I had with him was that he backtracked and said he was confident in his driving abilities.
It was hardly comforting for Lee, who spent months arguing with Kalis’ insurance company to cover the damage to his Subaru. Kalis’ agent told him that the fire chief would not allow the claim to proceed. The insurance company agreed to pay half of the damage earlier this month.
On June 14, after Lee set a time for Kalis’ insurance company to speak to Hendrickson, Lee was informed that Kalis’ insurance company would cover all of his costs.
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